One in four people experience sexual assault in their lifetime, but 94 percent of those assaults are not reported to the police, the largest survey of crime in New Zealand shows.

Published in Radio NZ

Victims’ advocates say the survey, which was commissioned by the Ministry of Justice, will help lead to radical change in the justice sector.

The New Zealand Crime and Victims Survey talked to more than 8000 people over the past year, to form what the Ministry of Justice said is the most comprehensive picture of crime in this country.

The report published by the ministry said 24 percent of adults – or more than 900,000 people – experienced one or more sexual assaults in their lifetime.

But just 6 percent of those, a rate of three in 50, would actually report the sexual assault to police.

Maggy Tai Rakena, the manager of START, a sexual assault support service, said there were many reasons why people did not report acts of sexual violence.

“If you think about that you’ve got 6 percent being reported, and of that 6 percent that is reported, you’ve got only 10 percent of that that leads to convictions.

“The chance of something turning into a successful prosecution is quite low, and so people know coming forward with sexual violence claims is a harrowing business.”

The report said people can be hesitant to report violence committed by their partner, because they fear they will be sent to prison.

Tim Hampton, a deputy secretary at the Ministry of Justice who compiled the survey, said the stories of people not reporting crime could be heartbreaking.

“The one that really struck me was that only 15 percent of those victims actually believe that what happened to them was a crime.

“When you heard what had happened, it was clearly a crime. That’s pretty telling.”

Hampton said the survey laid a platform for a significant change to how victims were treated in the justice sector.

“Everything in the survey has really confirmed what most people would expect who are involved in the sector.

“What the survey does is it puts hard numbers around many of the stories that we’re hearing, and so in order to bring about change we need both stories and numbers.”

Both Maggy Tai Rakena and Women’s Refuge chief executive Dr Ang Jury said the impact of financial hardship and poverty was of particular concern in the survey, given the Covid-19 pandemic and the recession that is set to follow.

Instances of family harm and sexual violence increased after the Global Financial Crisis.

The survey found a clear link between victimisation and socio-economic conditions, with those under financial pressure or facing unemployment more likely to be victims of crime.

Jury said the damage could be limited.

“Nothing is inevitable. I’m not a great believer in unicorns and pixies and things like that, but anything is possible.

“I don’t want us to get ahead of ourselves. Everybody is bracing themselves and preparing, and that’s all that we can do. Looking out for it, but not wanting to promote it either.”

Tai Rakena said the survey was missing the voice of children, as all those surveyed were over the age of 15.

“What this report doesn’t capture is the children. There’ll be good reasons for that, but that means there’s a whole lot of other abuse that we know nothing about.

“We’ve already got a lot of child sexual abuse that we do know about, and that’s really worrying.”

Chief Victims Advisor to the government, Dr Kim McGregor, said the likes of Women’s Refuge, START and other specialist organisations needed all the support they could get to combat these issues.

“The victim advocates in the specialist sectors are the experts, they’re at the frontline, they’re the ones we need to resource to be able to support not only individuals who are harmed, but also their family and whānau.

“It’s really important that we fund kaupapa Māori responses, because they are holistic and they’re vitally needed.”

The government has allocated more than $200 million over four years from the recent budget to fight domestic and sexual violence.

Justice minister responds

The minister for justice, Andrew Little, told Morning Report: “One of the things we need to do is make sure that the services and support that victims of sexual offending get is good and is their right from the time the police get involved and also right through to the court process.

“There’s been a lot of work to make sure that happens. We’ve been trialling that sexual violence court in Auckand and Whangārei and we’re waiting to see the evaluation on that.

“We’ve got law going through Parliament at the moment that makes it easier for victims to step up and give their evidence and not be traumatised by that experience.”

And he also wanted to see further work on restorative justice processes for sexual violence cases.

“At some point, I would like there to be a considered approach and public debate about what alternatives we have got to deal with it, because that’s the way we will get more people involved.”

Moving away from juries in sexual violence trials was not being considered, he said.

Where to get help:

Need to Talk? Free call or text 1737 any time to speak to a trained counsellor, for any reason.

NZ Police

Victim Support 0800 842 846

Rape Crisis 0800 88 33 00

Rape Prevention Education

HELP Call 24/7 (Auckland): 09 623 1700, (Wellington): be 04 801 6655 – 0

Safe to talk: a 24/7 confidential helpline for survivors, support people and those with harmful sexual behaviour

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

By Ben Strang
Published in Radio NZ
20 May 2020